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A Christmas Eve Tradition

December 24, 2015

12336188_10205894040495779_118025340_nMaking and decorating gingerbread houses is one of my favorite holiday traditions. Every Christmas Eve my mother and grandmother would spend the evening making gingerbread dough that filled our home with scents of ginger, molasses, and vanilla. On Christmas day we gathered in the kitchen and watched as my grandmother carefully scooped scratch-made royal icing into little plastic bags that my cousins and I used to decorate our very own gingerbread houses.

This year I was humbled to carry on that tradition, not with my family, but with the Veritas Collaborative PHP patients and their families. Over the span of two days, we baked, built, and decorated beautiful made-from-scratch gingerbread houses. Each family was given their own gingerbread recipe and instructed to make their own dough during the Monday afternoon culinary group. After they finished making the dough, the families rolled it out into smooth sheets which soon became the walls of the house. I slid each family’s gingerbread pieces in the oven and then gave the cooled pieces back to the families to assemble.

12358347_10205894039615757_175620013_nThen came the decorating process. I gave each family a bag of homemade
royal icing and a variety of colorful candies with which to decorate the houses. It was incredible to watch as each family worked together to build a beautifully-decorated house. The assembly process was stressful at times — pieces weren’t fitting together, some began to crack and break, and some houses even started collapsing. Even through these challenges, the families continued working together with patience and perseverance.

As I observed the PHP patients and their families as they navigated this difficult task, I was reminded of how challenging it is to have a family member in treatment for an eating disorder, especially during the holidays. I came to appreciate the strength and commitment that our families and patients must have to be able to support each other through this time of the year. I am grateful for my holiday memories, and I am hopeful that our patients and their families will be able to reflect back on this experience as a positive step toward recovery.


Gingerbread House Dough


  •      2-3 dozen cookies, or one gingerbread house and accouterments
  •      3½ cups all-purpose flour
  •      2 teaspoons ground ginger
  •      1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  •      1 teaspoon baking soda
  •      ½ teaspoon salt
  •      1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  •      ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  •      ½ cup molasses
  •      1 large egg
  •      ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Sift flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt into large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in another large bowl at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat 1 minute. Add molasses; beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg; beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low; beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just until blended.
  2. Gather dough into ball; divide in half. Form each half into ball and then flatten into disk. Wrap disks separately in plastic; chill until firm, at least 4 hours.
  3. Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper to ¼-inch thickness. Use gingerbread house templates or decorative cookie cutters to cut-out shapes and transfer to prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather scraps, roll out dough, and cut more shapes, repeating until all dough is used. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are firm on top and slightly darker around edges, about 8 minutes for smaller shapes and up to 15 minutes for larger shapes.
  4. Cool completely on rack. Line baking sheets with fresh parchment as needed.

Charlie W. Smith III

Assistant Sous Chef & PHP Coordinator, Veritas Collaborative